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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

Last Updated Jun 20, 2018 at 11:20 pm EDT

In reversal, Trump orders halt to his family separation rule

WASHINGTON (AP) — Bowing to pressure from anxious allies, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed himself Wednesday and signed an executive order halting his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they are detained illegally crossing the U.S. border.

It was a dramatic turnaround for Trump, who has been insisting, wrongly, that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of federal law and a court decision.

The order does not end the “zero-tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes all adults caught crossing the border illegally. But, at least for the next few weeks, it would keep families together while they are in custody, expedite their cases and ask the Defence Department to help house them. It also doesn’t change anything yet for the some 2,300 children taken from their families since the policy was put into place.

The news in recent days has been dominated by searing images of children held in cages at border facilities, as well as audio recordings of young children crying for their parents — images that have sparked fury, questions of morality and concern from Republicans about a negative impact on their races in November’s midterm elections.

Until Wednesday, the president, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other officials had repeatedly argued the only way to end the practice was for Congress to pass new legislation, while Democrats said Trump could do it with his signature alone. That’s just what he did.

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Immigration courts packed with cases of kids crossing border

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The little girl wearing pink party shoes topped with bows smiled from her seat in a Los Angeles immigration courtroom. The 7-year-old is happy now that she is worlds away from the violence in her native El Salvador.

Gang gunfire once forced her to hit the floor inside her home. She fled Central America last year with her great-grandmother to join her mother in the U.S. At the Mexico border, authorities separated the two, and she lived in a youth facility for about a month. She cried so much that staff members gave her extra phone time to talk to her mother, the mother said.

She was eventually reunited with her mother and is now seeking asylum.

Her case, which was in court Tuesday, predates the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy calling for the criminal prosecution of all immigrants stopped on the southwest border. But it illustrates how children arriving from Central America have long faced the prospect of family separation and navigated a complex legal immigration system that can take months or years to render a decision due to a massive backlog of cases.

The U.S. government separated more than 2,300 children from their parents in recent weeks in a policy that stoked widespread outrage among both Democrats and Republicans.

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At raucous rally, Trump touts hawkish immigration plans

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Hours after reversing himself to end the forced separations of migrant families, President Donald Trump returned to the warm embrace of his supporters at a raucous rally Wednesday to defend his hard-line immigration policies while unleashing a torrent of grievances about the media and those investigating him.

Trump downplayed the crisis that has threatened to envelop the White House amid days of heart-wrenching images of children being pulled from their immigrant parents along the nation’s southern border. He made only a brief mention of his decision to sign an executive order after spending days insisting, wrongly, that his administration had no choice but to separate families apprehended at the border because of federal law and a court decision.

“We’re going to keep families together and the border is going to be just as tough as it’s been,” Trump told the cheering crowd in Duluth.

Seemingly motivated to promote his hawkish immigration bona fides after his about-face on forced separations, the president denounced his political opponents and those who make unauthorized border crossings, suggesting that the money used to care for those immigrants could be better spent on the nation’s rural communities and inner cities.

“Democrats put illegal immigrants before they put American citizens. What the hell is going on?” asked Trump, prompting the crowd to chant “Build the wall!”

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North Korean side of DMZ sounds quieter now, even peaceful

PANMUNJOM, North Korea (AP) — Lt. Col. Hwang Myong Jin has been a guide on the northern side of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas for five years. He says it’s gotten quieter here since the summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the presidents of South Korea and the United States, in perhaps the last place on Earth where the Cold War still burns hot.

“A lot of things have changed. Listen to how quiet it is,” he said as he stood on the balcony of a large building overlooking the blue and white barracks and concrete demarcation line that mark the boundary between North and South.

“The South used to blast psychological warfare propaganda at us,” he said. “But since the summits, they have stopped. Now there is a peaceful atmosphere here.”

Indeed, all is quiet — deceptively so — in the DMZ these days.

On Wednesday, as Kim Jong Un was in Beijing for his third summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the northern part of the zone was buzzing with busloads of Chinese tourists taking selfies and eating ice cream cones outside the surprisingly well-stocked souvenir shop near the DMZ entrance.

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Trudeau: Canada to legalize marijuana on Oct. 17

TORONTO (AP) — Marijuana will be legal nationwide in Canada starting Oct. 17 in a move that should take market share away from organized crime and protect the country’s youth, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

The Senate gave final passage to the bill to legalize cannabis on Tuesday, legislation that will make Canada only the second country in the world to make pot legal across the country.

Trudeau said provincial and territorial governments need the time to prepare for retail sales.

“It is our hope as of October 17 there will be a smooth operation of retail cannabis outlets operated by the provinces with an online mail delivery system operated by the provinces that will ensure that this happens in an orderly fashion,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister said at a news conference that the goal is to take a significant part of the market share away from organized crime.

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump overstates order on family separation

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is misrepresenting the scope of his executive order that would halt his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents when they are detained illegally crossing the U.S. border.

He suggests the order is a permanent solution. But the president is contradicted by his own Justice Department, which describes the effort as stopgap and limited by a 21-year-old court settlement under which the federal government essentially agreed not to detain immigrant minors longer than 20 days. Trump has instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ask a federal court to overturn the settlement. But immigration advocates criticize that move as allowing a more indefinite detention of families until criminal and removal proceedings are completed, signalling legal battles ahead.

A look at Trump’s statement and the underlying facts:

TRUMP: “We’re keeping families together, and this will solve that problem.”

THE FACTS: It doesn’t solve the problem.

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Trump supporters steadfast despite the immigration uproar

CINCINNATI (AP) — Cincinnati resident Andrew Pappas supported President Trump’s decision to separate children from parents who crossed the border illegally because, he said, it got Congress talking about immigration reform.

Niurka Lopez of Michigan said Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy made sense because her family came to the U.S. legally from Cuba and everyone else should, too.

Die-hard Trump supporters remained steadfast even as heart-rending photos of children held in cages and audio of terrified children crying out for their parents stoked outrage among Democrats and Republicans alike. They said they believed Trump and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen when they falsely claimed that they had no choice but to enforce an existing law.

When Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to end forced separations on his own, they shrugged. The end, they suggested, justified the means. And it was the fault of Congress rather than Trump.

“The optics of what’s happening here directly at the border isn’t something that he wants to have on his watch, but at the end of the day, he still wants to focus the attention of Congress on the fundamental need for immigration reform in the United States and I think he’s gonna hold firm on that,” said Pappas, 53.

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Detainees held without charges decry Emiratis’ sexual abuses

CAIRO (AP) — The 15 officers who arrived at the prison in southern Yemen hid their faces behind headdresses, but their accents were clearly foreign — from the United Arab Emirates. They lined up the detainees and ordered them to undress and lie down. The officers then searched the anal cavity of each prisoner, claiming that they were looking for contraband cellphones.

The men screamed and wept. Those who resisted were threatened by barking dogs and beaten until they bled.

Hundreds of detainees suffered similar sexual abuse during the event on March 10 at Beir Ahmed prison in the southern city of Aden, according to seven witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press. Descriptions of the mass abuse offer a window into a world of rampant sexual torture and impunity in UAE-controlled prisons in Yemen.

The UAE is a key U.S. ally whose secret prisons and widespread torture were exposed by an AP investigation last June. The AP has since identified at least five prisons where security forces use sexual torture to brutalize and break inmates.

Yemen’s war began in 2015, after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over much of the country’s north. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading a coalition to fight the rebels, but UAE forces have overtaken wide swaths of territory, towns and cities in the south. The U.S. is backing the coalition with billions of dollars in arms, and partners with the Emiratis in anti-terrorism campaigns.

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GOP senator defends EPA chief, calls ethics allegations lies

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican senator who had expressed concerns about Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt mounted an outspoken defence of him Wednesday after a face-to-face meeting, calling ethics allegations against Pruitt “outrageous lies.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, from Pruitt’s home state of Oklahoma, spoke after summoning Pruitt to a one-on-one meeting this week to discuss more than a dozen allegations that Pruitt has misused his office to obtain perks and material benefits for himself and his family, including costly, taxpayer-funded premium-class trips and round-the-clock security.

“This is the type of outrageous lies you hear in Washington that people don’t have a chance to respond to,” Inhofe said at a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works confirmation hearing for two EPA nominees that quickly turned into a sparring session about Pruitt.

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware listed some of the ethics allegations against Pruitt and said the Senate isn’t doing enough to examine them and hold him accountable.

“We are abdicating a fundamental responsibility of this body if we continue to do so,” he said.

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Lawmakers rip tariffs enacted in name of national security

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pointing to damage done to home-state companies, lawmakers from both parties Wednesday criticized tariffs the Trump administration has imposed on imported steel and aluminum products in the name of national security.

The Trump administration has turned to a little-used weapon in trade policy: Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. It empowers the president to impose unlimited tariffs if the Commerce Department finds that imports threaten national security. Trump imposed the tariffs in March, exempting several allies with a reprieve that expired in May. Trading partners have responded by slapping tariffs on a wide range of U.S.-made products.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said rising steel costs since the imposition of the tariffs have made it harder for a Salt Lake City company to win contracts for custom industrial equipment, while pork farmers in his state are facing retaliatory tariffs from their two biggest markets, Mexico and China.

“I just don’t see how the damage posed on all of these sectors could possibly advance our national security,” Hatch said.

Democrats shared similar stories. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said apple and cherry producers in her state are getting hurt. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said a steel nail manufacturer in her state, the largest such enterprise in the country, has lost almost half of its business. The company will sell fewer than 4,000 tons of steel nails in July, versus 9,000 tons previously, she said.